כל מקום שיש בו חלול ה’ אין חולקין כבוד לרב – שבועות ל:ב
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the active leader of the Israeli Litvish yeshivish world, would have the torah community believe that they can deal with abuse while keeping it all away from publicity. Since they pretty much control their own media and block outside media, the threat is the secular media, protective services, and the cops. Hence their many warnings about not reporting without the approval of rabbis and not going to secular reporters.
Charedim Can’t and Won’t Internally Control Abuse
But going to Haredi rabbonim and dayanim does not work. Most rabbonim and dayanim prevent significant action against frum abusers. The only reason Walder lost his reputation and faced prosecution is because Haaretz, a left of center secular newspaper, presented the accounts of 3 women who were abused by Walder. This led Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu to form an ad hoc beit din that took testimony. Rabbis Yehuda Silman and Sariel Rosenberg, major poskim in Benei Brak, called for his books not to be read. Even that would not have done the trick of persuading Walder to turn himself in as a serial child rapist if Rabbi Eliyahu had not publicly disclosed his findings. And Eichlers Judaica, a major Boro Park seforim store, announced it was not going to sell them. Other major outlets followed and his publisher, Feldheim, fell in line. It was no longer possible to ignore his disappearance because kids wanted to know why they had to give up books they liked. So what started with chiloni “shaming” snowballed into a crisis because the charedi leadership isn’t used to having to admit abusers in their own ranks let alone having to come up with explanations for kids who don’t always just roll with subtle cues to shut up.
For the leadership this is a crisis of reputation. But for victims and survivors this pales beside the long standing disaster of cover ups. Is there any way to fix it without shaming such low lifes?
The Haredi system had 25 years in which to solve the Walder problem internally, but didn’t, as they usually don’t. Based on many reports from victims I can tell you what usually happens when victims go to rabbis. Sometimes they are shamed and blamed for the abuse as if they “wanted it” or at least behaved in ways that invited the abuse which is painted as consensual. Sometimes they are just not believed and lambasted for false accusations.
Even when the rav is sympathetic to the victim
they usually call in the abuser and chastise him (or in rarer cases, her) and extract promises they will not do it again. The smart abuser is usually modeh b’miktzas, conceding they did something but not quite as much as reported by the complainant. The rav proud of his accomplishment lets the victim know that the problem is solved and that he, the rav, will “keep an eye out.” But in practice, only rarely do they aggressively monitor the miscreant. Besides, abuse can happen 24/7/365. I have never heard of any such rabbi hiring a mashgiach temidi for an abuser. Occasionally the abuser is forced out of a job, but is spared shame and is allowed to move to another job or another community. This is lihavdel zero havdalas is like the Catholics moving priests between parishes. Except, the goyim only do it for their galachim while charedim do it for everyone in the community. After all, in their krum thinking, the next best thing to kedoshim tihiyu is to preserve the image that everyone is kodesh. And if the price of the secrecy is aroiyos, so be it. I am not saying the haredi rabbonim who enable this outcome consciously intend it. Of course not. They just make it their business not to allow themselves to think it through.
What they do think about are reputations. They think about the rodef molester. Even if they have no sympathy for him they think about nebich his wife and children. They also think about the victim and his or her family. In the frum world, an abuse survivor is blamed or at best dismissed as damaged goods. It becomes hard for them to get a good shidduch if people know about the abuse. And know they will, because loshon horah is like avoidah zorah during much of bayis rishon. The neviim kept warning about it because it was such a big problem. Nowadays the warnings are about loshon horah because almost everyone does it.
The community likes to pat itself on the back because now, more than in the past, they provide therapy help for some abuse survivors. But therapists are handicapped when the patient can’t even be sure that the abuser isn’t at that very moment abusing someone else. Healing is also hindered by shame when they know that it is not OK to publicly reveal their victimization. And naturally the community tends to refer to therapists who avoid reporting abusers to protective services even when they are legally mandated reporters.
The other recent development is “prevention education” which often falls short because it overemphasizes stranger danger but abusers are usually from within the community. Most fatally, these programs emphasize telling someone if anyone touches or talks to them inappropriately. But then kids will still usually see the same abuser remaining a respected member of the community.
So much of this krum approach to sex abuse derives from the obsession with reputations because they might affect shidduchim. As Rav Moshe Soloveitchik of Chicago once said, shidduchim have become the new avodah zorah. Rabbonim sacrifice victims on the altar of shiduchim. Sometimes families hush their own children and conceal abuse to protect shiduchim of siblings or other relatives. Sometimes victims come into rabbonim knowing of R. Elyashiv’s psak that molesters are rodfim and there is no issur mesirah. The more “liberal” rabbonim who claim to be on the side of victims then usually advise not going to the cops because of shidduchim. Olam hafuch. It should be the molesters who have trouble with shiduchim.
It seems to me that Walder should have been denied hespedim and normal kevurah as a suicide and as a rasha. Most suicides are correctly adjudged as acts of people out of their minds with thoughts and intention clouded by depression or delusions (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah 345:5). Sadly I have been close to people who succumbed to severe mental illness and I of course agree that they should have been accorded normal hespedim, kevurah and aveilus.
But Walder’s was exactly the sort of suicide for which the shulchan aruch restricts honors. The first confirmed record we have of his plans was when he was trying to prevent one of his victims from testifying. He told her he would deny everything. That even if she had recordings and images he would claim that they were electronic fakes. Then he said that his last resort against the charges would be committing suicide. His suicide was a deliberate act of sheker, his final firewall against the charges and to protect the sales of his books. (He said as much in his note).
Walder’s suicide was not mental illness. He was a sociopath, not a depressive, nor a bipolar patient, or a schizophrenic. He was a rasha deploying his last card in full control of his manipulative talents. The note was perfectly crafted to stir frum sympathy. It even almost succeeded when it induced Rav Gershon Edelstein to ridiculously claim Walder was hounded to death and shaming him was worse than aishes ish. Just think of how successful he was. When before did someone ever manipulate a gadol into implicitly defending an aishes ish. I imagine Walder looking up from gehenim smirking at his short lived success.
The real Shaming We Should Be Talking About
Having been abused I tell you that the shame burns, not necessarily on the cheeks but deep inside a chamber of dread. It consumes many of us to feel disconnected, to feel we must maintain an external look of normality lest the casual observer know our dark secrets. That pantomime of reality leads us into all sorts of problems.And then our practical failures become just one more excuse to dismiss us.
The powerful can dish out that shame scattering on their whim the shame that others must bear. But let the risk of shame flutter near them and protective shields pop up and drive back the truth. So it is everywhere.
The public Walder scandal started when Haaretz published its story based on accounts describing accounts by three victims of sexual abuse. Suddenly the hastily assembled rabbinical court of R. Shmuel Eliyahu could speak of 22 known cases involving the rape of boys and girls, and women, including married women. But it is a safe bet that there are hundreds of Walder victims. The usual arithmetic of abuse is that the visible tip of the iceberg is usually a miniscule fraction of the total submerged truth. This is so because shame conceals, especially in a world that punishes those who dare to speak out.
Just think about hundreds of victims in the deeply networked chareidi world of large families. These hundreds of victims connected with thousands or even tens of thousands of others with whom they conversed, studied, shared simchas and nichum aveilim, davened, transacted purchases, played Jewish geography on busses and planes, etc. But thanks to the shroud of silence and shaming most of them bear their pain in silence.
The Shame Cheshbon
In a world of yashrus no one should behave shamefully and no one should be shamed by others. But such is not our world. But if we are going to talk about shaming let’s keep the cheshbon honest. On one side we have thousands or tens of thousands suffering the inner shame from abuse. Let no one preach against shaming abusers until they can honestly say they have done everything possible to remove shame from survivors reporting abuse, and preventing shame to future victims. So I say, in our present world of sheker that yashrus and tikkun justify shaming the abusers.
Yes, go ahead and shame rapists. A little more such shaming now will prevent a lot more harm down the road.